Chapters (Layout Features)

The Writing Lesson of 1381

Crane, Susan

One of the many fields that constitute "the third estate" as a historical category is writing. We know the rebels of England's 1381 rising through chronicles, court records, charters, poems, and so on. Yet the rebels remain outside representation in that they do not represent themselves for the written record. They are reimagined by those who write. Maintaining a largely oral culture alongside an increasingly literate higher culture, England's lower strata appear in written records as incoherent and irrational creatures or as models of submission and faith, variously constructed by various writers' own positions and preoccupations. The distortion of records does not render them useless. Historians have striven to recover the rebels' actions and motives by reading chronicle accounts against one another, searching court rolls for proceedings earlier brought on behalf of villeins against lords, interrogating the records of perhaps spurious accusations and confessions subsequent to the revolt, and recognizing in other ways that all histories are interpretive and incomplete accounts. From my own partial position—partial, that is, in being both disposed toward literary analysis and limited by a professional training in literature—I would like to examine the written absences that historians work to overcome and to propose that absence is an important feature of the rebels' cultural status.


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Also Published In

Chaucer's England: Literature in Historical Context
University of Minnesota Press

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Published Here
December 9, 2009